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Firefighters Arbitrate Staffing Cuts

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The city and the Lockport Professional Firefighters Association held their second arbitration session last week over protests by the union about the reduction of staffing levels on each Fire Department shift. In an effort to reduce overtime costs, the city has cut the minimum manning level from 10 firefighters per shift to eight since the beginning of 2006.

Firefighter Sam Oakes, the union president, said the union objects to what it considers a threat to public safety.

Deputy Corporation Counsel David E. Blackley, who handles labor issues, confirmed, “The issue is the apparatus assignments.”

Oakes said the department’s past policy was to respond to a fire alarm with two engines, a ladder truck and an ambulance.

Now, with only eight firefighters working, the men on duty decide whether to take the ladder truck or the ambulance, but not both.

Blackley said the two sides held their second session with a state arbitrator Wednesday. A third session is expected sometime in May.

Asked if the city runs the risk of paying extra money to the firefighters, Blackley said, “I don’t know what he’s going to decide the remedy will be if he finds there’s a violation.”

The union has many grievances pending against the city that have yet to be heard. Also, a lawsuit is under way, and an unfair labor practice charge also is pending.

Those have to do with the same issue: the city’s decision last year to cut off health insurance benefits for two firefighters who have been off work on long-term disability.

The union’s contract with the city expires at the end of this year.

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